Reviews

'Skyline' Gives Us More Brain-Sucking Aliens

At one point, the survivors gather to stare at a military counter-attack on the alien ships outside their apartment: basically, they pause to watch another, more exciting movie.


Skyline

Director: The Brothers Strause
Cast: Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, Scottie Thompson, Crystal Reed, David Zayas
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Studio: Universal
Year: 2010
US Date: 2010-11-12
UK Date: 2010-11-12
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Trailer

In Skyline, invading aliens use shiny lights to transfix humans into a stupor, then abduct them and suck out their brains. The directors of the movie, the Brothers Strause, use strikingly similar methods. Colin and Greg Strause have designed visual effects for countless movies, some impressive (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Avatar), others less so (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). Here, directing their own movie, they summon all of their effects prowess to produce a large-scale alien invasion on a budget, sucking sci-fi fans into a limited-location thriller of astounding stupidity.

After throwing out some bright lights for a prologue, the movie backs up a few hours to find Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his lady Elaine (Scottie Thompson) arriving in Los Angeles to visit his childhood friend Terry (Donald Faison). Terry works in the movie business; he might be an associate producer, though the film remains murky on that point. He lives in an place referred to as a penthouse, but actually seems to be a reasonably nice apartment on the top floor of a reasonably nice complex. Much of the action during the first 20 minutes takes place at Terry's "penthouse" party, and for a little while, it seems as if Skyline will look upon its subjects with at least a cursory degree of class consciousness, watching how a bunch of Hollywood hangers-on manage an alien apocalypse.

Sticking with these characters suggests a limited-perspective take on the material, akin to Cloverfield or Spielberg's War of the Worlds. And the fact that almost the entire movie winds up taking place in the apartment building points to an urban (and more diversely populated) version of Signs. Any of this might work if the Strause Brothers showed any aptitude for suspense, but their approach to Skyline makes the single location seem like a function of good old-fashioned cheapness, rather than an inventive solution to a low budget.

The premise calls for vivid characters but the Strauses show little interest in their humans, apart from underscoring Jarrod's brooding, honorable masculinity and, like a stalker movie, punishing the promiscuous and the anonymous. Every time it appears that someone might become interesting, as when Terry's hilariously surly wife Candice (Brittany Daniel) takes charge of an escape attempt, the movie blocks the potential trajectory with generic alien marauding. At one point, the survivors gather to stare at a military counter-attack on the alien ships taking place outside the apartment complex: basically, they pause to watch another, more exciting movie.

Then the movie breaks perspective entirely and cuts to the middle of the action, exactly the kind of macro-view cheat that movies like Worlds or Cloverfield resisted. It's in this moment that the Brothers Strause betray what seems to be their true intention, to make a rock-em-sock-em monster mash rather than a tense invasion thriller. The aliens, which look sort of like gigantic versions of the visitors from Batteries Not Included with bonus tentacles and vaginas, have more personality and mystery than anyone else onscreen and when, in its final 20 minutes, Skyline becomes the kind of grungy, gnarly B-movie it could have been the whole time, it also gets sort of fun. Still not suspenseful, mind you, but fast-paced and less predictable.

But for some reason, the Strauses didn't actually make that movie. Instead, they made one with a lot of bickering about whether or not to leave the building. Given the lunacy of the film's final plot turns -- the revelation of what the aliens want with the humans has a grotesque sci-fi creepiness -- the rest of Skyline feels cautious, as if the filmmakers weren't sure what they could afford financially or bring off artistically.

The result is a lamely acted, poorly written, $10 million direct-to-DVD movie with major distribution. As such, it provides fairly spectacular visuals, almost comparable big-studio movies that cost three or four times as much. The effects are, if not seamless, respectable and believable. It's the rest of the movie that looks fudged.

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Music

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With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

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(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

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​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

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(Available from Warner Bros.)

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Film

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